The Medieval World, C. 400–1300

Chinese Art from the Sui to the Yuan Dynasties, C. 589–1368

What is Chan Buddhism?

Chan Buddhism (known in Japan as Zen Buddhism) is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China in the sixth century and gained importance during the Song dynasties. Chan Buddhist philosophy emphasizes the direct experience of the individual and enlightenment through meditation. While some Chan Buddhists believe enlightenment through meditation takes a lifetime to achieve, others believe enlightenment can be achieved suddenly, in a flash of understanding. Chan Buddhism had a large impact on Chinese painting. The thirteenth-century painter Liang Kai’s simple, yet expressive, hanging scroll, Sixth Chan Patriarch Chopping Bamboo, depicts a crouching patriarch who suddenly achieves enlightenment after hearing the sound of his blade striking bamboo wood.


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